Monday, October 27, 2008

The Language of Trees


By Steven Levenson. Dir. by Alex Timbers. Roundabout Underground. (CLOSED)

Two very negative reviews—one from Talkin' Broadway, the other from Backstage—pull down the overall score for Steven Levenson's Off-Bway debut. The play, about a translator who gets kidnapped in Iraq and the family he leaves behind, switches frequently between realistic and more lyrical modes, which some critics are taken by and others decidedly aren't. Gio Perez, who (in keeping with the playwright's instructions) is an adult playing a seven-year-old gets singled out in several reviews for a Job Well Done.

Time Out NY A-
(David Cote) This material could easily have devolved into movie-of-the-week sappiness or soapbox preaching, but Levenson’s tools include sharp, slow-burning dialogue and startling levels of empathy. Politically charged domestic tragedy: a tricky patois, but the promising young writer speaks it fluently.

The Associated Press B+
(Michael Kuchwara) Steven Levenson's play, now on view at the Roundabout Theatre Company's Black Box Theatre, is ambitious in scope and crams a lot into an overstuffed 90 minutes. But Levenson juggles the various plot strands well under Alex Timbers' thoughtful, clear-headed direction.

(Joe Dziemianowicz) The play does hit some snags. Each character is so disconnected—from Loretta, who has no family, to Kay, who never speaks to her husband—that it feels contrived...Nevertheless, Trees is compelling and makes you think about what it means to be a good neighbor—not just next-door but globally.

The Journal News B
(Jacques Le Sourd) The Language of Trees is an interesting little show, probably for theater fans only, by an emerging talent who bears watching.

NYTimes B
(Charles Isherwood) Plays about the current conflict in Iraq have mostly focused on the experience of soldiers on duty or the inexperience of the politicians who put them in danger, usually drawing on documentary sources. Mr. Levenson’s sensitive if not wholly satisfying drama is welcome for the imaginative sympathy it extends to the families left behind, whose painful stories have been the subject of much powerful journalism but relatively few new plays.

Variety B
(David Rooney) The playwright aims to make a point about truth communicated through nonverbal channels, and while this is not satisfyingly articulated, the play's depth of feeling is affecting. Levenson's writing has room for more maturity and definition, but there's no doubt he has something to say and is searching for an original way to say it. That makes him a good fit with the goals of Roundabout Underground.

TheaterMania B-
(Dan Bacalzo) More broadly, the playwright explores themes of miscommunication and shows that speaking the same language is no guarantee of connection. Yet at times, Levenson comes across as trying too hard to be profound.

NY Post C-
(Frank Scheck) The strained encounters between the two women take up a good deal of the play's running time, but the relationship never proves particularly interesting. And the scenes involving Eben—the sort of precocious child who believes that people who waste water should be locked in jail—provide some easy laughs, but not the intended poignancy.

Backstage D
(Adam R. Perlman) Never once during the 90-minute running time of The Language of Trees did I believe the characters or care for them. Their thoughts and mode of expression are suspended somewhere between realism and lyricism—too elevated to be real, not pretty enough to be poetry. Descriptions of loss float by without taking root.

TalkinBroadway D-
(Matthew Murray) If you fear the imminent death, or at least the long-term hospitalization, of issue-oriented theatre, Steven Levenson’s preachy and pretentious new play The Language of Trees is not for you. This Roundabout Underground show, in the intimate Black Box Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, is the polar opposite of the youth-oriented initiative’s first offering last year at this time, Speech & Debate: While that show was highly cool, subtly sexy, and up-to-the-moment alert, this one is covered in Halloween-ready cobwebs.

TONY A- 12; AP B+ 11; NYDN B 10; NYT B 10; Journal News B 10; Variety B 10; TM B- 9; NYPost C- 6; Backstage D 4; TB D- 3. TOTAL = 85 / 10 = 8.5 = B-/C+

No comments: